Photo by Richard Saunier

Seminal San Franciscan Crew Fights Evil on New Album

It takes a band with the proper levels of collective ambiguousness to ascend the rickety ladders of the DIY underground. With the release of their 10th full-length studio album–and first for Chicago-based Polyvinyl Records after serving their formative years on seminal indie label Kill Rock Stars–Deerhoof has seen firsthand the ripening fruits of their labor.

Deerhoof Vs. Evil finds the 16-year-old quartet (multi-instrumentalists/aural alchemists Satomi Matsuzaki, Ed Rodriguez, John Dieterich and Greg Saunier, though there have been many lineup changes) reveling in a boundless creative explosion, full of pop/noise/electro/art rock hybrid jams with Matsuzaki’s characteristically minimalist lyrical plodding and Dieterich and Saunier’s dizzying compositional wizardry in top form. The fact that the band saw to it that every last shred of writing and production was carried out by themselves, in addition to their startling escape from the bosom of San Francisco–where they’ve been based since 1995–might have something to do with the variance in vibe. But you’d have to ask them.

So we did. Submerge caught up with Jack-of-all-trades John Dieterich in anticipation of the release of the new album–Jan. 25, 2011–as well as the band’s stop at Harlow’s on Jan. 27, 2011.

I understand the band left San Francisco recently. Where are you based now and how has the change in environment influenced the band, if at all?
Yeah, none of us lives in the same city anymore. I’m living in Albuquerque, N.M., now, which has been very interesting and completely new for me, as I’d never lived anywhere in the Southwest before. As for how this distance has affected the band, I think we’re in the process of finding that out. Our writing process has always been one in which each of us works alone, for the most part, so there’s not so much that’s different there. The situation has definitely forced us to be very productive when we’re together, so there’s maybe a little extra pressure in that sense.

The band has said in the past that the listener and audience play a large role in the interpretation of Deerhoof’s music. Explain the process of having no process in terms of creating your music.
I suppose that having no process in and of itself is a process, in that the same kinds of emotions and issues come up time and time again when we get together to work on an album. None of us really has any specific agenda, so we have to work out together what we want the album to be. That being said, we all have a lot of ideas, musical and otherwise, and especially now that we’re living in different places, I think we tend to veer off in different directions even more than before. That can make things very interesting when we then try to figure out how to synthesize our ideas.

In the respect of that ambiguity in your style, what collectively and what individually was the band vibing on with the writing and recording of Deerhoof Vs. Evil?
I really have no idea what everyone else was thinking about. As a band, I think we tend to talk a lot, but not much of that conversation revolves around what we’re listening to or what we like, though there is some element of that, I suppose. I guess we tend to treat each other’s material at face value, meaning that we don’t make any assumptions as to what that material is supposed to mean or is in reference to. We listen to it, and we try to make it something that we can all speak through. It sounds vague, but it really is quite simple in a way.

How did working without engineers, self-mixing, self-recording and without any outside input, affect the finished product?
It obviously affected it in a major way, but I don’t know exactly what would have been different had we worked with outside people. We just decided that we had a practice space where we could play, and while there were some issues with it–bands occasionally playing loud next door, etc.–it was also ideal in many respects. We have a few microphones and the ability to record ourselves. The cost of renting the room for an entire month was what we would have paid for a studio and engineers for a day, so it wasn’t too hard to make the decision. It gave us a lot more freedom to experiment in areas that we may not have been able to in a studio situation. Some of us had been working on recording/mixing/mastering projects for other people, and the move to deciding that we would just do everything ourselves was easy.

The new album bounces between a lot of different soundscapes–from disco-tinged jams like “Secret Mobilization,” to the dreamy electro of “Super Duper Electro Heads” to the pop-rock freakout of “Behold a Marvel in the Darkness.” What is different about Deerhoof’s approach to writing that makes you comfortable in such disparate realms?
It’s funny that the three songs you mention as being so different from each other were all written by one person–Greg! To be honest, I don’t think of them so much as disparate realms. Each of these songs as recorded is just one possible way of dealing with the abstract material of the composition. Sometimes we might just want to explore a certain kind of sound in a very abstract way, and we’ll decide that that sound might go well with this particular song, and so we will fuse the two ideas and see what happens. There are plenty of times when we discover that it doesn’t work–for one or more of us–and then we’ll have to find a way of making it something that we all feel is the best for that song in the context of everything else on the album.

It’s not that I don’t hear differences between the songs; it’s that I don’t see any conflict in the process of moving between them.

Satomi’s voice has now moved much more into the foreground than in previous records. Was this a conscious move?
It’s funny, that hadn’t occurred to me! You may well be right, though it could be a question of mix decisions or the type of material or anything that creates that feeling. I definitely love her singing on this record and feel like it shines in a new way.

What would you like to say to your Sacramento fans, most of whom are no doubt bleary-eyed in the face of a new decade, in advance of your Jan. 27 show at Harlow’s?
Why would they be sleepy because it’s a new decade? I would suggest more green vegetables. No, but we’re excited to come to Sacramento! It’s been quite a long time.

Deerhoof descends upon Harlow’s Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011. Tickets are $12, and the band hits the stage at 10 p.m. For more information, visit